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Scary world

The assassination of General Soleimani by an American drone has suddenly made the world very scary. Soleimani had blood on his hands but he was a popular figure in Iran and his murder has outraged the Iranians who will expect revenge. In part this incident is the result of Donald Trump’s egocentric and unpredictable style of government but the Iranians had seriously provoked him.

They had shot down an American drone, attacked the US embassy in Tehran and an oil facility of Saudi Arabia, an ally of the USA. The American Defence Department accused Soleimani and the Quds Force he commanded of “being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more”.

Iran has been expanding its influence across the Middle East. Its forces have worked alongside the Russians in supporting the Syrians, keeping President Bashir al-Assad in power. They have meddled in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen through its proxies Hezbollah and the Houthi. They have challenged Saudi Arabia and supported Palestinian threats to Israel. All of this makes the American action understandable even though it was handled without any prior consultation with its allies.

A full on war is unlikely but Iranian attacks on American personnel and its allies are inevitable so Britons could be Iranian targets too. That might include people like Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe and other dual British/Iranian citizens, currently in Iranian prisons for spurious and unjustified reasons, denied any hope of release.

Nor are the only threats coming from the Middle East. Both China and Russia add to the scariness in the world today. One of the new Government’s early decisions will be whether to allow Huawei, the Chinese telecoms organisation, to be involved in our 5G telecom network. The fear is that Huawei will serve its Government’s interests not those of the UK in any times of conflict between China and the UK. There are some grounds for this concern. Nottingham University has a branch in China and its academics have been pressured “to cancel events relating to Tibet and Taiwan” by Chinese officials. (Times Newspaper 31.12 19) There is also a possibility that such deals with China could become an obstacle to any trade negotiations with the USA, post Brexit.

Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin increasingly poses a threat to its European neighbours and the UK. For a period under Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin this threat was diminished but in recent years Russia has adopted an activist foreign policy. The annexation of Crimea and the war with Ukraine are examples of this. So too was the attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury with the nerve agent Novichok. Russian air force planes and naval craft regularly test British defensive readiness. These are the acts of a potential enemy, not an ally.

These challenges call for serious diplomatic skills and experience by our Government and foreign services. His two-year tenure as Foreign Secretary suggest that Boris Johnson is not blessed with these skills. Repeated gaffes and inappropriate remarks marked his tenure. His inaccurate description that Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe had gone to Iran to train journalists wrecked her hopes of release from prison.  Nor has our current Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb had any experience of foreign affairs. That might not matter so much if the American President was an experienced diplomat. His coolness towards NATO is also a cause for concern.

 A Christian response to this situation is to make it an issue for prayer. Jesus, the Prince of peace, said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Zechariah’s song about the infant Jesus is also encouraging when he recognises “the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace”. (Luke 1:78-79).